Soul Food with a Side of Culture

Art House Cafe offers a platform for Black artists

Photography by Kim Thomas

My friend invited me to try the Art House Cafe for lunch. As I sat there chompin’ on the best salmon slider I’ve ever had in my life, I said to myself, “There’s an awful lot of art on the walls.” I poured more of their homemade BBQ sauce on my salmon slider and glanced down the hall. More artwork on the walls. 

My friend distracted me from my thoughts when she asked about my smoked cabbage. “Oh, it’s really good,” I said. “But what do you think about the art on the walls?” 

Between bites she replied, “All of them are nice, and there’s more art in the back room too!” 

When I asked our waiter about the art, he replied, “Yeah, the Art House Cafe is an art gallery and a restaurant. You can buy the art just like you buy the food!” He went on to explain that any local Black artist can have their artwork showcased in the Art House Cafe. In fact, the art that I was viewing was created by a variety of artists. Well, color me intrigued!

Nestled near College Park, the Art House Cafe serves up more than good food. It also serves up a healthy dose of culture.

It’s a place where Black artists gather to be seen and where communities go to be fed.

It’s a place where both the building and the soul food on your plate hold a bit of history.

Owner Tameka Daniel Greer is the founder of the nonprofit organization Memphis Artists for Change. Tameka grew up in South Memphis, at Third and South Parkway to be exact. “I came out of The Hole,” she explains. “That’s what people call my neighborhood: The Hole.” 

Although she didn’t have access to a lot of Black art growing up, that didn’t stifle her creativity. “I was always a creative and good student. That allowed me to get out of The Hole and attend Overton High School.” 

Overton High School is a performing arts school in East Memphis. The list of notable alumni from Overton is impressive. “Students gained great skills at that school, and success became the norm,” she says.

The experience of not having access to Black art, but being surrounded by Black excellence at a young age, planted a seed in Tameka that would soon blossom into something beautiful.

The building where Art House Cafe is located has been in Tameka’s family for 40 years and has a colorful history of its own. “My uncle Freddie Butler got the building in the ’80s. He created our first family business, Butler’s BBQ Pit,” says Tameka. Tameka’s mother and aunts helped run the restaurant for years. Eventually, it closed and Mr. B’s Wings opened there. Later Tameka’s cousin Montana Trax—a Memphis music legend—turned the building into a recording studio.

After the passing of Montana Trax, the building sat empty for many years. One day, Tameka approached Freddie about using it as a space for her nonprofit, Memphis Artists for Change. Her idea was for an “Art House Cafe” full of art, not food. While he gave her the go-ahead for her idea, he held tight to the notion of seeing food in the space eventually. Tameka recalls him saying, “The community needs some hot food that they can afford.” 

As Memphis Artists for Change began to grow and to provide platforms for local artists—as well as to support community and economic development—Tameka never forgot the importance of a good meal. “My brother Marvin is a chef. So I asked him if he was willing to do some pop-ups at the art gallery.” Of course he agreed!

Art House Cafe hosted live recordings, like a Memphis version of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. They also offered open mic poetry and hung the works of local Black artists on the walls. Meanwhile, Chef Marvin poured his art onto a plate and the pop-ups became very popular. The pop-up brunches featured broccoli-and-cheese waffles, smoked wings, spaghetti with catfish, smoked cabbage, and smoked salmon sliders. (Yes, there’s a smokehouse in the back left from the Butler’s BBQ Pit days.)

Although the pop-ups were doing great, Tameka still hesitated to commit to a restaurant. “We all know that some restaurants fail in the first three years,” she says. 

Tameka knew that if she entered the restaurant business, she wanted to provide a livable wage for employees, while keeping prices affordable. She also wanted to support culinary entrepreneurs.

So in January 2023, Tameka opened the food element of the Art House Cafe as a social enterprise to maximize profits while maximizing benefits to the community.

Now profits from the cafe help support programs offered by Memphis Artists for Change.

Restaurant guests still enjoy favorites from the pop-up days, as well as smoked turkey ribs, chopped chicken, catfish po-boys, and black bean burgers. For lunch, a favorite is the 901 Special, which features a BBQ turkey rib sandwich, slaw, and fries for $9.01. All food is served to-go style, but tables are available if you want to stay to eat.

If you go on a Sunday, wear your stretchy pants and arrive early! (The food often sells out before closing time on Sundays.) The special soul food menu features cornbread dressing, macaroni and cheese, lima beans, baked chicken, baby back ribs, yams, smoked gouda potatoes, and more.

The Art House Cafe is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. I suggest placing your order and then strolling through the gallery to appreciate all of the art on display. 

Art House Cafe
1023 Mississippi Boulevard
memphisartistsforchange.org/art-house-cafe

Patricia Lockhart is a native Memphian who loves to read, write, cook, and eat. Her days are filled with laughter with her four kids and charming husband. By day, she’s an assistant principal and a writer, but by night—she’s asleep. @memphisismyboyfriend

Kim Thomas is a lifestyle blogger and photographer based in Memphis. Launched in September 2010, her blog, KP Fusion, provides of-the-moment fashion, style, and beauty tips and trends with a little Memphis flavor thrown in. @kpfusion